By Enock Muchinjo
I WENT to Lusaka to watch Zimbabwe’s Africa Cup rugby tie against Zambia two weeks ago, and I am still annoyed like everyone who made the trip th
at Zimbabwe continue to suffer silently from poor officiating by Confederation of African Rugby (CAR)’s officials.
The Sables lost the match 14-10 through a last-minute try by the Zambians. The result was not more than what the match referee, Godwin Karuga of Kenya, stood resolutely for.
The result left Zimbabwe at the bottom of the three-team log also featuring Madagascar. Zimbabwe last month drew 22-all with Madagascar who went on to beat Zambia.
The Zambians, admittedly, have improved their rugby vastly over the past few years, like several other African countries. On this particular occasion though, they have the referee to thank for the win.
One Zimbabwe player, who had a running battle with Karuga throughout the match as he passionately questioned his decisions, summed up the feeling in the Zimbabwe camp disgustfully after the match: “The referee was the man-of-the-match.”
To start with, the very dangerous foul on Sables wing Lloyd Makwati in the first half that resulted in a penalty try for Zimbabwe did not see any form of punishment for the Zambian player. IRB rules clearly states that a penalty-try foul must at least be accompanied by a yellow card.
This “mistake”, however, can be forgiven as on a couple of occasions even top Super 14 referees have failed to penalise the offensive player after giving away penalty-tries.
But Karuga cannot get away with the overall grossly flawed officiating in the match.
The whole afternoon, Zambian players were freely putting hands in the ruck and wilfully collapsing it. The referee, on all the occasions, looked the other way. He only blew his whistle a few times, as an afterthought, when the Sables players complained persistently.
Every time Zimbabwe took the quick penalty like they did for most of the second half, the Zambia defence would not be positioned the required 10 yards away from the set-piece. Again, Karuga pretended not to notice.
With Zimbabwe leading 10-3, and in control of phase possession in the second half, Karuga awarded the Zambians two dubious penalties which brought the home side to within a point of Zimbabwe.
And when the referee saw that Zimbabwe could still win the match, as they were frequently going over the advantage line in search of match-clinching points, the officiating grew even more ridiculous. The Zambians knocked on and passed forward at will, and sometimes even paused thinking Karuga had noted the infringement and would give the Zimbabweans the decision.
Karuga, apparently, is a highly rated referee in his homeland Kenya. He has officiated at the Dubai Sevens and in Sevens World Cup qualifiers. He has also been to Zimbabwe on a couple of occasions for the Cottco Schools Festival, and an exchange programme between the Kenyans and the Zimbabwe Referees Society saw him handle the Zimbabwe domestic league final last year.
With these credentials, Karuga is not what you would call an incompetent referee. But it cannot be simply put either that he was just having a bad day.
If you link this type of officiating with the ordeal Zimbabwe has had to go through at the hands of CAR in the past few years, one will discover a trail of prejudice against Zimbabwe by Africa’s rugby authorities.
Zimbabwe rugby has problems of its own, and it seems CAR is determined to make it worse than it is. CAR is desperate to be seen as developing rugby on the continent, and results such as a Zambia win over old powerhouses like Zimbabwe augurs well for the continental board’s propaganda and egoistic purposes.
You only have to look at what these people at CAR are capable of doing to comprehend fully the great lengths they would go to satisfy their selfish ends. This is the same CAR that only last year arranged for Zimbabwe to arrive on the eve of an important World Cup qualifier against Uganda — the home country of CAR’s Paul Sigombe, who incidentally was the match commissioner in Zambia. Having arrived at midnight, they were made to stay at a hotel that could also pass for a nightclub or brothel.